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Saddling up the Iron Horse in California

In what may be another windfall for California’s high speed rail project, Florida officials, led by that state’s governor yesterday rejected almost $2.5 billion in federal matching funds for a high speed rail link connecting Orlando and Tampa.

As Michael Doyle reports in The Sacramento Bee, that money could conceivably find its way into California’s coffers. Several months ago, after newly elected republican governors in Ohio and Wisconsin rejected federal money for high speed rail projects in their states, federal officials redirected the money to California.

Florida, like Texas and Nevada has flirted with high speed rail plans in the past. Florida Gov. Rick Scott cited concerns of cost overruns and the long-term maintenance expenses as reasons for backing away from the federal funds.

Meanwhile, as John Ellis of The Fresno Bee reports, some members of California’s Republican congressional delegation are angling to pass a bill that would allow the re-direction of billions in federal money granted to California’s high speed plan to the widening of a California freeway.

With so many rail proposals dying on the vine, attention will be focused on California’s project and the ‘who-is-right’ debate on high speed rail: the Polyannas or the Chicken Littles.

Only time can tell the victors of that argument at this point. Cost control and overall success hinges on proper oversight — from the acquisition of rights of way without enriching land speculators at taxpayer expense, to construction and purchase of rolling stock.   Though with gasoline closing in on $4 a gallon before the first shovelful of dirt is moved, it would appear that the odds are on the side of the old steel horse.

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